Thursday, September 28, 2017

An Invitation

You don't have to be a Google researcher to know why people visit It's all about the basketball. 

Twenty one years ago this weekend, this site was launched. Victor Page was a 21 year old sophomore, home basketball games were a bus ride to Landover, and America Online boasted of seven million subscribers who could visit any one of 200,000 web sites across the world, including this one.  

Did you join us?

Then and now, the Big Brother of Georgetown Athletics was, and is, why we're still coming here. So, for once, let me introduce you to Georgetown Basketball's older brother, who's got a big weekend of its own planned.

Excusing a statistical handful of elderly readers, none of us have a memory where Georgetown football was a destination event, when the Hoyas played the likes of Penn State, Miami, or West Virginia, not to mention Syracuse, Villanova, or Boston College.  Ole Miss came to town and drew 25,000, while the Hoyas went to Yankee Stadium and doubled that figure. But when Georgetown short-sightedly cut football in 1950, a little bit of the Georgetown ethos and culture was severed with it, something which no sidewalk at McDonough or parking lot in Landover or even a underground parking garage in Penn Quarter has fully healed.

Basketball is a winter sport--you arrive, you watch, and you leave. Socializing is done in a concourse, or on the way to a bar to get out of the elements. Our basketball traditions are tucked high into a corner of a darkened arena, and that's what we've come to expect. By contrast, football thrives in its social interaction, something altogether lacking at  school which largely ignores its on-campus teams. Why else do 60,000 people at Stanford or 80,000 at Notre Dame or 100,000 at Alabama come out ever weekend? It's not to watch a game that's much more comfortable in front of a high definition TV set. It's not for a love of traffic jams or walking up huge flights of stairs. "From the moment you enter the parking lot to set up camp and tailgate for the day, donning your favorite team's gear, to the packed and raucous environment in the stadium," wrote Bleacher Report. "If you're watching college football, the experience is the same everywhere you go: electric."

This writer apparently has never been to Georgetown.

Couple that with the low wattage nature of Georgetown football, so low that a Heisman Trophy winner last weekend hadn't even heard of it, such spirit has been, in many respects, a lost opportunity. The poor fan experience around the never-built on-campus stadium and the litany of tired, uninspired excuses from the University about promises never kept have always cast a cloud about a sport that predates basketball by a quarter century and once was every bit the unifying force basketball has become today.

This Saturday, against the relentless typecasting that Georgetown football is decidedly a small time effort, the Hoyas will host a game at a legitimate big time venue, RFK Stadium, home of the Squire and the Hogs and thirty years of NFL glory. Yes, the place has seen better days and may not see many more if the price of land grows unabated, but for one Saturday in September, before sunny skies and 66 degrees, the Blue and Gray host the Crimson lines of Harvard. 

Okay, not exactly Ole Miss, but an opportunity nonetheless.

Almost twenty years ago former football coach Bob Benson wrote that " There must be a vision" for football. "It is really quite simple," he said. "Utilize the game of football to create an environment and atmosphere among our students, faculty, and community on an autumn Saturday afternoon and bring to our campus a school spirit on a fall day that is desperately needed." Saturday's game, on a big stage and a reasonably big opponent, offers just that sort of spirit and camaraderie, if we only choose to join in. There will be activities for families, for college students, for parents, and for older fans, too. Food trucks, marching bands, and tailgating will, for a few fleeting hours, reintroduce Georgetown to the verities of a Saturday football experience it dispatched so many years ago. You don't have to be a huge football fan to enjoy the experience, but you do have to be a part of it.

Can you join us?

The numbers are small for those of us who build their schedules around Gerogetown football, much less argue the finer points of Hoya gridiron history. Outside of Rob Sgarlata and Bruce Simmons, not many of us can argue on a Saturday afternoon tailgate whether Aley Demarest or J.J. Mont was the better quarterback, whatever happened to Alondzo Turner, or simply what it was like to watch the Hoyas on ESPN2 on a Friday night and win a game on a last second field goal.

But this isn't a history lesson. Saturday is a chance to make new history, meet some new friends, and perhaps realize something I've tried unsuccessfully to point out all these years--athletics isn't a zero sum game. You can be a Georgetown basketball and a Georgetown football fan and have fun doing both. Basketball's time will come.

A game on a big stage is a financial risk, and under any circumstances there are going to be a lot of empty seats in a stadium which has held up to 56,692 people. 

But your seats don't have to be empty. If you live in the area, a $12 ticket and a ride on the Metro is a low cost way to enjoy a unique Georgetown event and to do so on a beautiful Saturday afternoon. And while there are no guarantees whether 1,500 people will show up or 15,000, this is an opportunity for Georgetown to come together in ways that its half-fast, on-campus experience has never quite done.

Will you join us?

"Football is America's game," wrote columnist Luke McConnell in 2010. "Sure baseball was once, but that is now America's pastime. Football is now. Nowhere else in the world is football regarded as a sport worth following or getting excited about. But here in America, it's everything." 

"What is there not to love about football? The action is fantastic, the joys of victory incredible, and the relationships you build with fellow fans and opponents are unlike any other relationship you could ever form."

Sure, Georgetown won't be rolling out a 300 person marching band to form the Block G, there won't be an Air Force flyover, and the RFK stands won't dangerously sway as they did when the cheers "We want Dallas!" filled the air over East Capitol Street. In 2017, it doesn't have to be "big time" to be a "good time." After years of institutional inertia over football at Georgetown, here's a chance to play a game and enjoy doing so.

I will not go as far as former college coach T.A.D. Jones, who famously told his team, "Gentlemen, you are about to play football against Harvard. Never again may you do something so important." Yes, it's a big game, and while Jones' Yale team shut out Harvard 13-0 that day, that isn't happening Saturday. 

But I will say to this team, the coaches, and to its fans, this is an opportunity ripe for greatness. Win or lose, make Saturday a day we can all talk about with pride and good feeling, for generations to come.

Join us. Straight for a touchdown.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Week 3 Thoughts

Some thoughts following Columbia's 35-14 win over Georgetown Saturday:

1. Uh-Oh, Not Again: It was fifty-one weeks ago that a late hit on the Georgetown sidelines spelled the end of Tim Barnes' season, and the beginning of the end for the Hoyas. fast forward to last weekend, and another injury to Barnes took the air out of the Hoyas' sails.

Georgetown didn't win another game after Barnes' injury in 2016, and only one since. Is another extended losing streak on the horizon?

That depends, of course, if Barnes can play, and if GU has said something, you didn't read it in the local press. Much like last season, Clay Norris didn't show much, but that may be more a knock at the Hoyas' tentative offensive game plan from OC Mike Neuberger than anything else.  Neuberger's calls in the Marist game channeled the days of Jim Miceli, who famously had first and goal at the Howard two yard line in 2009 and ran the ball four times up the middle for, you guessed it, no yards in four attempts. In this most recent game, Neuberger's plays merited two yards in 22 carries. Such is not the calculus to defeat Harvard, the Crimson having outscored the Hoyas 110-20 in its last three meetings.

More to the point, Georgetown has scored just three points by halftime in three games this season, to arguably three of the weaker I-AA teams nationwide.  This isn't three points to Cal Poly, Richmond and Buffalo (the first three opponents for Colgate), or three points against Army, Central Connecticut and Eastern Washington (the first three opponents for Fordham), or even Connecticut, New Hampshire and Dartmouth (the first three non-conference opponents for Holy Cross. No, this was Campbell, Marist and Columbia.

So, the stats by team as to points scored this year after two quarters:

Lehigh, 82
Holy Cross, 63
Bucknell, 61
Fordham, 54
Colgate, 34
Lafayette, 20
Georgetown, 3

That's beyond unacceptable--if that's the best this offense can do, find 11 more kids down the roster and give them a shot.

2. As The Offense Goes, So Go The Hoyas. Two sobering statistics:

1. In its last 10 games, Georgetown has averaged 11 points per game and has lost nine of ten.

2. When giving up more than 14 points in a game, not an unreasonable number, Georgetown has lost nine straight, 13 of its last 14, and 39 of its last 44 over the last five years.

Georgetown may not beat Harvard, but it certainly can't beat Harvard with the offensive approach has been putting on the field of late.

3. Whither the Patriot League? Georgetown's not the only PL club with some questions. The league as a whole is a combined 6-19 in non-conference play, with no team over .500 and perennial titleists Lehigh and Colgate sporting a combined record of 1-7.

What's going on?

As noted above, the PL schools are generally playing tougher opponents as scholarships make them more attractive--outside of Georgetown and Bucknell, schools like Marist aren't on PL schedules anymore. Granted, there are outliers--Lehigh has already allowed 205 points this season compared to just 323 all last season, but the PL teams will be well prepared for conference play, a further call to action to get its offense in gear over the next two weeks.

4. In Case You Missed It: ESPN College Gameday had the Hoyas front and center last week, a first for this team. Check it out beginning at the 5:54 mark of the video:

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Week 2 Thoughts

Some thoughts following Marist's 14-12 win over Georgetown Saturday:

1. A Bad Loss. No sugarcoating necessary, this was a bad loss to one of few winnable opponents on the 2017 schedule. Where Georgetown was able to compensate for a weak offensive showing by Campbell with a strong defensive showing and a pair of critical turnovers, the Hoyas could do neither with Marist.

Giving credit where due: Marist is a good defensive team, but this is the Pioneer League and Georgetown should have better offensive weaponry than it does. But it does not.  Despite a senior-heavy lineup, Georgetown is a slow, reactive offense whose play calling in recent years is predictable and often under performing. It's why teams like Harvard and Fordham seemed to key off the Hoyas in early game series last year.

Georgetown has scored just three points in the first half over two games this season, which is a big red flag given the caliber of competition. It was 12 points at the half in 2015 and just over 10 in 2016--that's putting the defense in a position of weakness all day.  Granted, this is not new.

From 2001 to 2016, the Hoyas have placed just two selections to the first team all-Patriot league team, but Luke McArdle was a MAAC era recruit and Jeremy Moore was a return specialist.  Put another way, not a single back, lineman, or receiver recruited since 2000 has made a list that Colgate, Fordham, and Lehigh have a combined 141 selections during that same period.

Either Georgetown has to recruit better or play better to avoid the kind of slide it faced last season (dropping its last eight) or what may befall them beginning Saturday against Columbia. The Lions collapsed in the second half of a game last year at Cooper Field that they should have won, but it was the last win for the Hoyas. This is a markedly better Lion team this year and year three of the Al Bagnoli era at Morningside Heights  is set to produce results.

Even if we concede Georgetown  is not going to win seven or eight games this season, and we do, the offense has to put the team in position to contend. It wasn't there against Campbell and it sure wasn't there against Marist, even with last minute hopes. Georgetown needs a much better game plan, and much better execution in the next three weeks to keep the 2017 season from sliding off the page altogether. History doesn't suggest this (GU is 6-30-1 all time vs. Ivy schools) but that's why they play the game.

Bottom line: this is not the same Columbia team of the past two seasons. Is this the same Georgetown offense?

2. The Little Things. Coaches dread film sessions like this, because one or two plays may have made the difference. OK, I'll discuss three:

--Brad Hurst's blocked PAT. Never underestimate the power of special teams. The Georgetown game plan changed from 14-7 to 14-6, and whereas the Hoyas might have been able to tie the score and drive for the game winning points at the end of the game, they were playing from behind all afternoon thereafter.
--Third and 1 at the Marist 49:  With 2:53 to play, a stop here leaves the Hoyas one time out and roughly two minutes to drive down the field. Failing on this stop eats up the remaining timeout and nearly two minutes of the clock.  The net difference was a mere two yards for the remainder of the series, but the loss of time proved fatal.
--The final drive: With 15 seconds to go, no timeouts, and the clock stopped, Georgetown needed a big play to make a difference. Instead, a three yard dump-off set up the Hoyas to clock the next down and have one chance for the end zone.

3. The Only Game In Town. Unlikely as it may sound, ESPN College Gameday is broadcasting this week from New York

That's received a lot of grief from the chattering class, given that such events seem best suited to places like Tuscaloosa or State College or Chapel Hill. ESPN hasn't exactly said why this is the case (it may be a cost cutting move even with the costs of Times Square)  but in any event, they won't be in front of a stadium this week. In fact, there is only one football game in the city that day.

Georgetown at Columbia.

So, no, ESPN is not going to bring out headgear for Lee Corso to pick the winner of the game, although Jack the Bulldog would look great on him as opposed to, say, Roar-ee the Lion. But it would offer an opportunity, however brief, for the sports information folks at both schools to get in a reference (or two) that these two schools are playing this week amidst all the other talk of a three hour show.

In short, give them something to talk about. And about that headgear....

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Week 1 Thoughts

Some thoughts following Georgetown's 16-10 win at Campbell to open the 2017 season:

1. More Of the Same (Part 1): Year four of the Michael Neuberger offense was underway Saturday and, well, it wasn't much that we haven't seen before.

That's not a knock on the coach but what he has to work with. Georgetown has historically struggled to recruit impact players on offense and its offensive output over the years reflects it. The Hoyas were 115th of 123 schools on the ground last season and we saw more of that Saturday. Maybe the Hoyas can attribute just eight first downs as a byproduct of one facing of the better I-AA defenses from 2016, last season, but Campbell had losses on the defensive line and Georgetown didn't get much through the trenches.

Absent a 33 yard run by Alex Valles, Georgetown combined for 26 rushes and just 71 yards. Valles doesn't have the speed to carry this team on rushing into the heat of the PL schedule, which is why it's important to see Jay Tolliver and perhaps Jackson Saffold to get some early carries this season. Georgetown won't win many games relying solely on the passing attack. And with marist holding its first two opponents to an average of 62 rushing yards per game, Saturday's game will be an interesting test to see what faith Georgetown holds in its rushing game, or lack thereof.

2. More Of the Same (Part 2): Another solid defensive effort from the Hoyas was the difference in this game. The defensive play, especially in the fourth quarter, not only earned a win, but built the confidence of a veteran team which will need every bit of this kind of effort.

"There wasn’t a rhythm to what we were doing and you have to credit Georgetown’s defense,” said Campbell coach Mike Minter.

With seven sacks up front and forcing three turnovers in the red zone, there was a lot to like about where the Hoyas were in this game. Marist had only one red zone penetration against Bucknell versus seven against Stetson in last weekend's game, and Marist's 337 yard passing effort against Stetson will be a point of effort in this week's defensive planning. The good thing is that Georgetown has the defensive mettle to meet the challenge.

3. A View From The Creek: I had planned to attend this game but reshuffled my air plans to make the September 30 game with Harvard (Promotion? Anyone??). The good news was the excellent broadcast on the Big South Network with Campbell's radio team.

Campbell clearly seems like a program on the way up. From a crowd of nearly 6,000 for an early season game to a healthy marching band with a neat nickname ("The Sound Of the Sandhills"), Campbell seems well prepared for its move to the Big South next year. The game announcers reported Campbell was scheduled to return this game in Washington in 2018, but new conference schedules and better offers can change plans. It's likely this will be a much better Campbell team in 2018 and much like Monmouth and Stony Brook before them, the program may soon outgrow a series like Georgetown.

The Campbell announcers had a pair of "oops" moments in the game, however. They referred to the first season of Hoya football as 1895 (?), then corrected that at halftime, only to note that GU had the smallest stadium in Division I "with 1600 students".  They did note that "renovations are coming on [Georgetown's]  field", but we've heard that before...

4. Home Opener: Saturday's game with Marist hasn't drawn well in the past. Let's make a better effort to support this team and get a good turnout. This will be the Hoyas' only on-campus game until October 21, so make plans to attend.